Wednesday January 16, 2013
No mountain too high
WHO says outdoor enthusiasts should hang up their shoes once they have reached retirement age? The very fact that Valsala Rajaram, 68, has climbed Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is an indicator that age is just another number in scaling greater heights.
“My friend and Selangor Cheshire Home president Datin Paduka Khadijah Suleiman encouraged me to sign up as a volunteer for the Cheshire New Challenges Mount Kinabalu Climb. I agreed initially but after much thought, I almost backed out as I was concerned about my age, health and fear of heights,” says Valsala.
The charity climb, held last August, was organised to enable 23 people with disabilities to achieve their dreams and inspire others to take on new challenges.
After much persuasion from her husband, former Malaysian ambassador B. Rajaram, and their three children – Raaj Kumar, Prem Kumar and Anitha – the grandmother of five put aside her fears and decided to give mountain climbing a try.
“I decided to conquer my fear of heights by signing up as a volunteer. I realised that if the disabled could do it, so could I,” says Valsala, who is no stranger to charity work, having been a regular contributor to socio-cultural organisation All Malaysia Malayalee Association (Amma) and Inner-wheel Club of Subang Jaya.
Last October, Valsala received the Kerala-based Garshom Infomedia’s International Garshom Pravasi Vanitha award which honours non-resident Indians for their charity services.
To improve her stamina, Valsala joined 22 volunteers to train under Ong Hock Siew, an experienced guide. Valsala also worked on her endurance threshold by carrying a 5kg backpack and climbing hills.
Besides outdoor climbs, she also indulged in one-hour stair-climbing exercises which helped to strengthen her leg muscles.
“These practices are vital to build stamina and strength. The first few climbs were tough but I persevered. As the weeks went by, my fitness level and confidence increased,” says Valsala.
When the big day finally arrived, Valsala managed to negotiate the 6km trail to reach the Laban Rata base camp in less than seven hours.
“I was one of the 20 climbers from our team to reach Laban Rata. All the rigorous training topped up with yoga classes and regular walks, worked wonders,” she says, beaming with joy.
Although it was a breeze to complete the first leg of the journey, Valsala had to endured a fair bit of challenges to reach the summit. It was physically and mentally strenuous, Valsala says, because of the cold, pitch dark conditions and thin air.
“The lack of oxygen made the climb even more challenging. My heavy backpack, coupled with the slippery, rocky terrain, slowed me down. I was exhausted and soon, my fears of falling came creeping back.
“I almost gave up but the other volunteers cheered me on and encouraged me to continue to the top. I felt a sense of relief and great accomplishment when I reached the peak. The view was spectacular and it really lifted my spirits to have been able to conquer the highest mountain in South-East Asia.”
Now, Valsala believes that anything is possible.
“It’s really mind over matter. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you set your mind to it.”
Age no barrier for Ong Hock Siew's mountain quest